At the far southern tip of the continent of Africa, lies one of the most amazing countries that you will find anywhere on Earth. There are many reasons behind this bold statement and certainly the current strength of the pound against the South African rand is massive plus. Being five times larger than the UK, South Africa has such a breadth and depth to offers its visitors. It certainly a country where you can keep all members of the family or group happy whatever their needs and wants are.
If we start with the history of the country which is characterised by racial and political violence, territorial conflict, wars of conquest, and inter-ethnic rivalry, the latter of which still exists to this day. The bush-men (Khoi and San) were the original inhabitants having had roots in the region for millennia with a nomadic lifestyle, and empathy to their environment similar in many ways to the aborigines of Australia. Most of the rest of the population trace their history to later immigration. Africans in South Africa are descendants of migrants from central Africa, who first entered southern Africa about 2,000 years ago. White South African were descendants of later European settlers, mainly from the Netherlands (the Boers), Germany, France and Britain. All have left their mark on the country making it the special place it is. The much used term “Rainbow Nation” was first coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to describe South Africa after apartheid rule had ended in 1994, and more than 20 years later the country is so different in many ways. As an example, according to the South African Golf Association, the country now has over 450 affiliated golf courses which service more than 125,000 golfers, the majority of the newest ones tend to have been built in the Western Cape.
So with the history lesson finished and us being fully up-to-date on to South Africa today let us discover the regions in more detail. What better place to start than the world famous city of Cape Town, bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the Indian Ocean to the south and east. This is Africa’s most southerly point and the convergence of two major oceans close to Cape Town gives it changeable weather patterns that are generally Mediterranean with hot summers and warm but wet winters.
For the wine fanatics, the Cape region is famous for the wine producing regions including Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschoek as well as the Karoo, a semi desert region and the Garden Route, an area of coastal vegetation called ‘fynbos’ which is found only in South Africa. The route from George through to Port Elisabeth is known as the ‘Garden Route’ and offers some spectacular scenery and flora especially in their spring which is from late September to early November. This is a must visit location on any itinerary
The Western Cape
As well as being home to the Mother City of Cape Town as mentioned this is included in most itineraries usually at the start or end. As also mentioned the Western Cape is home to the majority of South Africa’s vineyards with such well-known name as Franschhoek (“French Corner”), Paarl and Stellenbosch. A tour to at least one of these areas, with a driver/guide of course, just has to be one of your days out and perhaps the perfect opportunity for a day away from the golf course. Likewise a trip to Boulders Beach to see the penguins, followed by a drive round Chapman’s Peak and a visit to Kirstenbosch also needs to be on your bucket list. But then there is also Bo Kaap, Robben Island, Hout Bay and, of course, Table Mountain.
When it is time to think about getting your clubs out, the golf courses in the province are some of the best in South Africa and offer a challenge to golfers of all standards. And the green fees are such good value!
Just a few miles to the east is the coastal town of Hermanus, famed for its very particular flora, found only in this region, called ‘fynobos’. But is flora is not your thing Hermanus is famed for being the location where the Southern Right Whales come so close to the shore that all you need to do, is sit on the cliff top with a glass of the local produce. If that is still too tame, then take a short trip to Dyer Island and go Great White Shark cage diving. There really is something here for everyone.
The Eastern Cape
So, that is Cape Town sorted and now is the time to strike out and discover more of the real South Africa. Three choices of quality reveal themselves to the first time visitor. First up, hire a car and drive towards George (it’s scenic in an M4 through Wiltshire sort of way) and the Garden Route unless you cut inland and route through the Karoo. Best visited in their spring (October & November), the region has some quant Cape Dutch homes and beautiful scenery with the lagoon around which Knysna is built being a particular pull.
The golf courses are simply superb, with the likes of Simola, Oubaai and Fancourt courses that you just have to play. Beware Fancourt Links unless you’re serious golfer or your confidence could take a battering.
Head further east through Tsitsikamma and onwards to Port Elizabeth and the malaria free game reserves awaits with names such as Addo, Amakhala and Shamwari, home to the Big 5 (lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant).
Mpumalanga / Limpopo
A two hour flight from Cape Town will take you to Kruger Mpumalanga Intl Airport and another of the major pulls for visitors to South Africa – the Kruger National Park. Named after Paul Kruger who was instrumental in its formation. The park is the size of Wales and borders Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The Kruger has such varying topography that there is a habitat all the major animals you can think of and several hundred more besides. You can self-drive and camp in the Kruger, its great fun and very social but I would also advise spending a little bit more for a few days and finding a rustic lodge in one of the many private game reserves that abut the park.
For some relaxation after the early morning safari starts, head west for an hour or two and visit the area around Pilgrim’s Rest, set in the Drakensberg Escarpment, was one of the Transvaal’s goldfields that drew prospectors to the area in the 1870’s. The scenery is the area is simply stunning with hill walking, white water rafting, hang gliding and horse-riding just some of the activities on offer. Your bucket list in this region has to include visiting the Three Rondavels, Blyde River Canyon and God’s Window.
The golf courses in the area are not as plentiful as the other provinces but what is lacked in quantity is made up by their quality. Leopards Creek has views into the Kruger and is arguably the No.1 course in South Africa, whilst further into Limpopo is Legends which houses two courses of such quality that is needs to be on every golfers list of courses to play. And then there’s its famous 19th
hole – not the bar but a 400m Par 3 (yes Par 3). Have you ever taken a helicopter to a tee box? The region is malaria free and being at a higher altitude, your ball will travel further in the thinner air. It is an ideal destination for a golf & safari combination and, now, also to some incredible island and resorts of Mozambique, with direct flights from the Kruger to Vilanculos.
Kwa Zulu Natal
And finally to an area that in my opinion is the pivotal region in South Africa from a historical viewpoint and my particular favourite. The name itself evokes the history of the region – Kwa means ‘place of’, Zulu after the warrior nation who under King Shaka shaped the nation. Then there’s Natal, a shortened version of Natalia, that the Portugese called the region after landing here on Christmas Day. Nowadays it is usual shortened to just KZN.
The region is where most of the battles that forged the nation of South Africa took place between the Boers, the Zulus and the colonial British. You cannot have not seen the film ‘Zulu’ starring Michael Caine, it was a real engagement and you can visit the site of the battle. This one has to be on your bucket list.
The Drakensberg Escarpment continues in an arc from Mpumlanga and provides a stunning backdrop to the hinterland of KZN, a place to take a picnic and hill walk, or horse-ride, or mountain bike or fly fish. Or just relax and breathe in the clear crisp mountain air. A trip to Cathedral Peak and Giant’s Castle is a day not wasted.
Inland from Durban the country opens out into the rolling hills of the Midlands, rising up to the Drakensberg Mountains and the land-locked nation of Lesotho. There is so much to do in this province that you’ll never have time to be bored, whether playing on some of the hidden gems of courses, relaxing on a beach, listening to the stories of its colourful past or tasting the wonderful fusion cuisine offered.
Moving to the coast KZN has some of the best beaches in Africa, stretching up from Richards Bay to the Mozambique border with names such as St Lucia, Kosi and Rocktail. These are wild and remote beaches with superb diving and space to relax – but do not think loungers, club sandwiches and waiter service.
The game reserves are some of the oldest in South Africa, home to a wide variety of wild life and quite close to the coast; it is perfectly possible to have a game drive in the morning, a dive in the Indian Ocean on the afternoon and drinks at Lake Sibaya as the sun sets. What a superb day!
Golfers are well catered for with several superb courses, including some championship ones, both north and south of Durban and in the Drakensberg. I would definitely recommend Durban Country Club, Zimbali, Prince’s Grant and Cotswold Downs..
If all the above seems a bit too much like hard work and you instead want the height of luxury then we also have the answer. Since its establishment in 1989, Rovos Rail has rightly earned an international reputation for its world class travel experiences, with discreet, friendly service, supeb cuisine and some of South Africa’s finest wines.
In a series of journeys lasting from 48 hours to 15 days, Rovos Rail links some of the sub-continents greatest destinations from Cape Town at its most southerly tip to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and the desert landscapes of Namibia through Kwa Zulu Natal to the wonder that is Victoria Falls. Our personal favourite experience sees the train traverses the spectacular Garden Route to the winelands for a brandy distillery visit and across the Cape Fold Mountains before this magnificent expedition ends in Cape Town. Golfers play Leopard Creek at Kruger, Durban Country Club, Humewood in Port Elizabeth, Fancourt in Knysna & Ernie Els Oubaai in George.
Whale Tail Classic
Finally, if it some serious competitive golf that takes your fancy then it is with great pleasure that Golf Escapes invite you to the take part in the 2nd Whale Tail Classic, Hosted by Arabella Hotel & Spa, South Africa at the end of September 2016 for 5 wonderful days.
The hotel itself offers the ultimate in five-star luxury and a wealth of leisure and business options. The hotel staff will go out of their way to create a memorable and unique event this September. The fabled 18-hole, Par 72 Championship Arabella Golf Course has once again been ranked number 1 in the Western Cape and Top 5 in South Africa. This rugged stretch of South African coastline snakes along the Atlantic Ocean, with magnificent mountains rising up on the other side. As part of the tournament package, you will have the opportunity to see the region’s namesake – whales – cruising and wallowing in the coastal waters. We envisage guests wanting to add on to this 5-night programme, with pre or post tours to the likes of Cape Town, Fancourt or a safari destination and are happy to provide further details as requested.
So, that’s our synopsis of South Africa. What more could you ask for, great scenery, stunning diving, challenging golf, endless walking, delicious wines and nation forming history. Want to find out more then get in contact with us today.